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  • Author or Editor: Susan Schexnayder x
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Polyethylene (PE) mulch provides significant benefits to fruit and vegetable producers because it has the potential to improve crop quality and increase yield. However, the use of PE mulch generates plastic pollution, posing challenges to the sustainability of fruit and vegetable production. Plastic biodegradable mulches (BDMs) are a sustainable alternative to PE mulch because they are designed to decompose into water, carbon dioxide, and microbial biomass. We surveyed Tennessee fruit and vegetable growers to assess their use of PE mulch, BDM, or both; the differences in the characteristics of BDM users and nonusers; and their interest in using BDM. Our results indicate a large percentage of fruit and vegetable growers have used PE mulch compared with BDM. In general, BDM users tend to have more acres in fruit and vegetable production, have used dumping and burying as PE mulch disposal methods, and have spent more hours removing and disposing of PE mulch. Results indicate that even at prices higher than the current average market price for BDM, there is a percentage of Tennessee fruit and vegetable growers interested in using BDM.

Open Access

US nurseries are experiencing a workforce shortage that is expected to intensify. A mixed-mode survey of decision-makers representing the US nursery industry was conducted in 2021. The survey assessed practices used in 2020 to elicit a better understanding of nursery approaches to the challenges presented by persistent labor scarcity. We compare our results with survey data collected ∼15 years earlier at container nurseries. Survey responses revealed that nurseries were undertaking strategies that aimed to improve production efficiency, better recruit and retain employees, and secure other sources of labor to overcome this shortage. Specifically, more than 65% of surveyed US nurseries increased worker wages, and more than 55% of respondents adopted automation to address the labor shortage. Strategies in use by ≥23% of respondents may limit future growth or jeopardize long-term nursery survival. These include diversifying tasks of current employees, reducing production of labor-intensive plants, or delaying expansion plans. Survey results suggested that production tasks excluding irrigation were on average 31% automated or mechanized at container nurseries, an increase from 16% during the prior survey. Field nurseries were 35% automated or mechanized in 2020. Newly developed or yet-to-be developed automated and mechanized technology (AMT) that decision-makers perceive as being helpful were reported. This article explores linkages between nursery characteristics and AMT adoption and highlights research and extension programming initiatives that are needed to help growers make informed decisions regarding adopting automation.

Open Access